A Colorful Approach to Spelling

February 15, 2018 by admin

Mention spelling to just about anyone, and they will likely bemoan the ‘craziness’ of a language that has ‘so many rules and so many exceptions.’ But watch out– talking about English like this doesn’t help anyone: not teachers, and not learners.

Spelling rules have ‘ruled’ education for generations now, but do they really help? Take these so-called “short u” words, for example.

  • Monday  up  but   mother  love  son  one  must  come
  • just  what  was  funny  oven   other  does   number

Of these seventeen words, only six of them follow a ‘u’-based spelling rule. If the rest of them are exceptions to that ‘rule,’ then is it really a rule? And what are learners supposed to make of a word like ‘does’ – is it a ‘short u’ word despite containing an ‘o’ and an ‘e’ – and not a single ‘u’?

The Solution

Despite their varying spelling patterns, all of these words have one thing in common: they contain the same stressed vowel sound /ʌ/ which we can simply call a CUP of MUSTARD. Working with the stressed vowel sound as our point of reference, the fun begins! Look at these same 17 words, now organized by spelling pattern. The result is a spelling ‘bar graph’ that helps us notice which spelling patterns are most prevalent and which are least common.

Until now, the only instructional option has been teaching those old spelling rules, and this has meant limiting yourself to the words that follow the rule. Now, learners can engage in COLOR VOWEL-based ‘Spelling Exploration,’ a student-centered discovery in which learners work with the words—any words– they choose.

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